Lot 209
  • 209

Emperor Akbar holding the royal turban of Humayun, Mughal, Shah Jahan period, circa 1630-50

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Portrait drawing of Akbar, Mughal, circa 1630-40
  • ink with colour, heightened with gold on paper,
  • drawing: 21.5 by 11.5 cm.; leaf: 27.5 by 17.5 cm.
ink with colour, heightened with gold on paper, gold margin rules, reverse with inscriptions of identification in Persian and Devanagari, numbered '43' in Hindi numerals, 18th/19th century backing paper with pencil inscriptions in English: "Akbar, ZM 565, 311RRS". and further numbers


Ex-private collection, England, 19th/early 20th century


Generally in good condition, visible remnants of previous sketch of Akbar holding a sword. Minor stains and scuffs on border. Writing on back. As viewed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This is an important, iconographically rare and previously unrecorded posthumous portrait of Emperor Akbar, shown holding the crown of Humayun in homage to his father. It is one of several posthumous portraits of Akbar executed during the reign of Shah Jahan and relates closely in composition and execution to a group of around five known works, all painted between 1630 and 1650 and made for or in the context of the royal albums now know as the Kevorkian and Late Shah Jahan Albums. The closest comparable portraits are: 1. 'Emperor Akbar in old age leaning on a sword', from the Late Shah Jahan Album, Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, (AKM00149, formerly Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection, M.169, see Canby, 1998, no.112, pp.150-151; Goswamy and Fischer 1987, no.42, pp.94-5; Welch and Welch 1982, p.223); 2. 'Akbar with a Lion and Calf', by Govardhan, from the Kevorkian Album, Metropolitan Museum of Art,; 3. A drawing of 'Akbar with a Lion and Calf', attributed to Govardhan, a preparatory study for the previous work, Cleveland Museum of Art, 71.78, see Leach 1986, cat.26, pp.91-93; 4. 'Akbar with a Sarpech', from the Late Shah Jahan Album, Freer/Sackler Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., S86.402, see Lowry and Beach 1988, cat. 334, pp.280,282; 5. 'Akbar holding a sword and jewel', from the Late Shah Jahan Album, Christie's, London, 4 October 2012, lot 36.

The Cleveland Museum drawing (no.3 above) was almost certainly a study for the painting by Govardhan of the same composition in the Kevorkian Album (now Metropolitan Museum, see Welch et al 1987, no.9, pp.96-7), and this suggests that the present drawing was probably a study for another painting of Akbar that was either never executed or has been lost. It is also likely, given that all the comparable finished portraits are in the Kevorkian or Late Shah Jahan Albums, that the planned painting for which this drawing is the study was destined for one of those albums. This theory is supported by the fact that the pentimenti of the present work, now disguised by a thin white wash but still clearly visible and showing Akbar leaning on a sword, shows the exact composition of another of the finished portraits of Akbar in the royal albums - the page from the Late Shah Jahan Album now in the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (no.1 above).

The quality of the drawing is very fine, with exquisite rendering of details in areas such as the turban of Humayun and the one worn by Akbar himself. The figure as a whole is strongly but delicately drawn, with a thorough understanding of three-dimensionality and drapery. Although a formal, dynastic portrait, the artist has imbued the figure of Akbar, and especially his face, with a sense of realism and psychological acuity. As Akbar gazes respectfully at the royal turban-crown of his father Emperor Humayun, his eyes and face convey a thoughtful, almost profound expression, as if he is thinking about his father emotionally and in terms of the historical significance of the great empire he helped to carve out and the dynasty he helped to found. This psychological realism and understanding was a mark of the Mughal master Govardhan, and in this as well as the draftsmanship the present work is very close to his style. In terms of draughtsmanship it is particularly close to the portrait drawing of Akbar in the Cleveland Museum of Art (71.78), which is attributed by Leach to Govardhan, and comparison with this and other works by Govardhan demonstrate a shared style in the slightly smoky, grisaille manner with strong but delicate shading (e.g. inter alia, 'Prince Parviz and Women', and 'Music at an encampment', Minto Album, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, 7A.2, 7A.11 , see Leach 1995, vol. I, nos.3.12, 3.21, col.pls.57, 58; 'Astrologer and Holy Men', Musée Guimet, Paris, M. 2471, see Okada 1992, p.189, fig.224; 'A Prince Visiting a Hermitage', Cleveland Museum of Art, 71.79, see Leach 1986, cat.28i, col.pl.VIII, pp.96-99; Okada 1992, fig.223, p.188; 'A Dervish Leading a Bear', Metropolitan Museum,, see Welch et al 1987, no.76, pp.236,238); 'A sheikh teaching princesses on a terrace', Gulistan Palace Museum, Tehran, see Rajabi 2005, p.471. Govardhan was a 'house-born' son of the artist Bawani Das. His earliest works were illustrations for manuscripts at the end of Akbar's reign in the early years of the seventeenth century, but his separately produced works show an immediate interest in portraiture, both single figures and groups. He continued to work in the royal atelier through Jahangir's and Shah Jahan's reigns. He produced grand and majestic royal portraits as well as more subtle and penetrating ones. Okada described Govardhan as "taking portraiture to its zenith, making him the most penetrating and remarkable portraitist in the imperial atelier." (Okada 1992, p.203).

While many Mughal paintings exist that show emperors holding or giving a symbolic object such as a crown, a globe representing the world, a jewel, a sarpech or a sword, the iconography here of Emperor Humayun's distinctive turban-crown is very rare, possibly unique. The Devanagari inscription on the reverse mentions this explicitly: patsyah akbar ki surat; humayun ka taj; liye ka adab ("Likeness of Padshah Akbar; Humayun's high-crowned cap; held [out of] respect"). The symbolism of this is clear, with a direct dynastic message inherent in a portrait probably commissioned for Shah Jahan depicting his grandfather holding his great-grandfather's turban-crown. The design of the dagger in Akbar's belt is notable. Akbar was usually depicted with a katar, or occasionally with a jambiya, whereas here he is shown with a kard, a type more often seen worn by Emperor Jahangir. However, by the time this drawing was made (circa 1630-50) all three types featured in royal settings.

Like many works prepared for albums, the paper at the top of this drawing has been extended, and the cherubim swoop in clouds that cross over both pieces of paper. The paper itself has been examined, showing a structure indicative of a high-quality paper made on an early wire mould of the mid-seventeenth century, with tightly-packed laid lines and regular chain lines. The extension paper at the top is of slightly lower-quality and the structure is indicative of a grass mould of a similar date. The backing paper is a lower-quality eighteenth or nineteenth-century paper.